At his inaugural restaurant NAE:UM, chef Louis Han wants to reconcile with his past and pays homage to the culinary experiences he gleaned from going around the world. A former head chef at the now-defunct contemporary Korean restaurant Kimme, chef Han hails from the Gangnam district of Seoul, the cosmopolitan capital of South Korea where he cut his teeth in the culinary arts from the tender age of 14.
In the decades that followed, he has prepared international cuisines to military officers and dignitaries in Lebanon; worked at Marco Polo, a Mediterranean fine-dining restaurant at Grand Intercontinental Hotel in Seoul; and collaborated with world-renowned chefs such as Joan Roca and Alain Passard. He eventually relocated to Abu Dhabi where he honed his skills at Circo, an award-winning Italian fine-dining restaurant, before moving to Singapore in 2016.
Following his departure from Kimme in 2020, he returned to Seoul, where he reconnected with Korean food and its culture at the two-Michelin starred restaurant Mosu, picked up pottery and tended to his small family farm. All of which were instrumental in moulding his global sensibilities, developing his culinary palate and most importantly, influencing his cooking style.
On paper, NAE:UM is a contemporary South Korean restaurant. But perhaps for the 31-year-old chef-founder, it is an extension of what he remembers and loves of his hometown and Seoul, where its hospitality, comfort and complex flavours take centrestage.
Impeccable yet wholly inviting, the restaurant’s brightly-lit interior boasts plenty of wooden accents, comprising oakwood tables and furniture decked in warm birch tone, as well as an open kitchen for guests to satisfy their curiosities or simply to marvel at chef Han and his team working their magic.
Chef Han describes the restaurant’s menu as “episodic” because each edition references a part of chef Han’s culinary journey across the globe. Although most of the dishes are irrevocably South Korean, they are innovative and wholly unique with several interesting twists; they are either prepared with some facet of Western techniques or made using Korean ingredients, such as Gochujang sauce, in a surprising manner.
In this series of Crew Eats, we interview the staff of NAE:UM, who are all foodies, and who share with us their favourite dining haunts, comfort food and more.
We hear from Louis Han, Chef-Founder of NAE:UM; sous chef Ben Goh, demi chef de partie Kenneth Tham, commis Caleb Gan, Ariel Mojica, NAE:UM’s Restaurant Manager, and Jay Ho, NAE:UM’s Assistant Restaurant Manager.
Louis Han, Chef-Founder of NAE:UM
With several stints in places across the globe, including a two Michelin-starred restaurant, and having collaborated with notable chefs, 31-year-old Louis Han has made a name for himself in the local and international culinary scene. His inaugural restaurant NAE:UM, which opened in July this year, is his next big challenge.
On his favourite comfort food, the Seoulite relishes a bowl of Dwaegi Gukbap, a popular South Korean soup made using pork, soy sauce, miso, bone broth and more. “I used to eat this a lot when I was young or whenever I was hungover,” he says.
But occasionally chef Han would go scouring for authentic South Korean fares. One of his favourite haunts is Go! KBBQ. “For more than two years, I worked opposite them, and Go! KBBQ serves really authentic Korean barbeque,” he says. When asked what was the best meal he has consumed, he jokes, “When my wife cooks for me, which hasn’t happened yet.”
Address: 76 Amoy Street, Singapore 069895
Opening hours: Monday – Saturday: 12pm-2:30pm; 5:30pm-11pm; Sunday: 5pm – 11pm
Ben Goh, Sous Chef
Sous chef Ben Goh has been with the team since NAE:UM’s pre-opening days. It was during a chance visit to Paradise Group’s Chinese noodle bar LeNu, as suggested by his wife who brought him there, that made him fall deeper in love with noodle dishes. “I’m Asian and it’s not surprising that I like noodle or rice dishes,” he says.
With several franchise outlets scattered across the island, Mr Goh praises the LeNu for its consistency. The 33-year-old recommends first-timers to try the Braised Beef Combination Noodle which boasts three types of beef atop a piping hot bowl of beef soup.
LeNu (one of 11 outlets)
Address: 200 Victoria Street, #B1-22, Bugis Junction, Singapore 188021
Opening hours: Monday-Friday 11am-10pm; Saturday-Sunday 10:30am-10pm
Kenneth Tham, Demi Chef de Partie
If there is a dish that Kenneth Tham, the Demi Chef de Partie at NAE:UM, prefers eating for breakfast, lunch and dinner, it is Nasi Lemak. Otherwise known as a national dish in Malaysia, the fragrant and rich dish is made using rice cooked in coconut milk. It is often served with a side of chicken wing, a fried egg, ikan billis (fried anchovies), peanuts and a dollop of sambal on the side. However, customers may customise their orders from a selection of other small delights, such as fish filet, fried fish and otak-otak (grilled fish cake).
The 24-year-old confesses that he is not a fussy eater, but instead is a “coffee shop boy” who enjoys consuming his meals in a neighbourhood kopitiam or hawker centre. “I tend to go to the nearest coffee shop near where I live,” he says. “Plus, the food is cheap and tasty.”
Caleb Gan, Commis
For commis Caleb Gan, nothing beats sinking his teeth into a crispy slab of fried chicken, the likes of KFC’s or any other South Korean fried chicken diners’. Just like Mr Tham, Mr Gan prefers simple fare and dining out near his home. “I tend to eat at Bedok Interchange Hawker Centre,” he says. “You can find a decent hot and sour soup here.”
Bedok Interchange Hawker Centre
Address: Blk 208B New Upper Changi Road, Singapore 462208
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday: 7am – 10pm
Ariel Mojica, Restaurant Manager
“I really miss Sisig,” says Ariel Mojica, the restaurant manager at NAE:UM. “It’s a Filipino delicacy made using minced pig’s face and belly, and served with garlic, chilli, and pork liver. You can’t find it here.” Mr Mojica, who hails from the Philippines, is an adventurous soul. He adds, “I generally like trying newly-opened eateries and restaurants. I don’t have any favourites but I do enjoy heading to Wine Connection occasionally.”
According to Mr Mojica, the franchise outlet at Sentosa boasts a terrific sunset view. “But it was at the Dempsey outlet, which has since closed down, that I first discovered the brand and fell in love with a glass of Riesling.”
Wine Connection Bistro (VivoCity) (one of 35 outlets)
Address: 1 Harbourfront Walk, #01-152/153/154 Singapore
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday: 11am – 10pm
Jay Ho, Assistant Restaurant Manager
Like many Singaporeans, Assistant Restaurant Manager Jay Ho’s go-to comfort food is a plate of chicken rice. But while one would expect him to dole out a slew of recommendations, which often stir up a contentious debate, Mr Ho prefers dining out at French restaurant Bistro du Vin Singapore.
“I happened to be walking by when I chanced upon it,” Mr Ho says. “The food is not overly expensive and the food is nice.” The 25-year-old recommends first-timers to try the Magret de Canard, a traditional French dish consisting of duck breasts (often sous vide, then pan-seared) served atop potato gratin (or with any potato sides), greens and drizzled with some of the restaurant’s in-house gravy. He adds, “It looks and tastes like a tenderloin even though it is just duck breast.”
Bistro du Vin Singapore
Address: Shaw Centre, 1 Scotts Road, #01-14, Singapore 228208
Opening hours: Sunday to Friday: 11am – 2pm; 6pm – 10pm; Saturday: 11.30am-2pm; 6pm-10pm